I followed this storm from day one and knew since the Friday before Katrina struck we were facing a monumental storm of historic proportions -- as did most EVERY other Professional forecaster in the country!
DarkSyde helped me post my 'rant' on the extremely poor emergency response to what was the ultimate Disaster in U.S. history - something I try to avoid since it is the 'political' side of my field. But I couldn't NOT say something. DarkSyde's original thread on my behalf speaks for itself.
I will be posting more on the 'science side' of this storm later this week, but for my first DKos Diary entry, I've chosen to discuss what I believe is wrong with the current 'Warning System' which rates the intensity of a storm using the all to familiar 'CAT 1 to CAT 5' designation.
The NHC did a phenomenal job of warning the nation of the impending Disaster -- but in some ways they became a victim of their own success because of the limitations of the Saffir-Simpson Scale (CAT 1- CAT 5) -- a sort of 'crying wolf' stigma forced upon them by the strict usage guidelines of the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
The actual real world usage of the 36 year old Saffir-Simpson 'Categorical' designation of storm intensity leaves a LOT to be desired. In it's working form --it really only addresses the maximum wind speeds observed in a storm. In it's current form and appliation -- it has no way real way to express to the Public or Emergency response people the aerial extent of damage to be expected -- nor the Storm Surge damage that can also be expected. It is simply to 'simplistic'.
Katrina was a Huge CAT 5 storm when in the Gulf of Mexico-- but it also came ashore officially as a CAT 4 storm in terms of observed surface wind speeds. And while hitting Gulfport -- it was officially classified as a CAT 3 storm as measured MAX Winds had fallen off to CAT 3 intensity (sustained winds of 111-130mph).
BUT the storm surge produced an area of devastation normally only found in a very intense CAT 5 Hurricane, and over an unprecedented stretch of coastline that is nothing short of mind boggling! This is a major deficiency in our current 'rating' of Hurricane Intensity.
The 'policy' for rating storm intensity as found on the NHC Web site states:NHC Web site states:
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a 1-5 rating based on the hurricane's present intensity. This is used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall. Wind speed is the determining factor in the scale, as storm surge values are highly dependent on the slope of the continental shelf and the shape of the coastline, in the landfall region.
Actual real-time Advisories from the NHC in the hours leading up to landfall clearly stated Winds were of CAT 4, and then down to CAT 3 intensity upon actual landfall at Gulfport. Yet, we find 100 miles of coastline with CAT 5 damage. And by some accounts, the Storm surge hit 28 feet at some locales within Gulfport, and 22-25 ft nearby. That is greater than ever observed in the United states -- and easily exceeded the surge of Hurricane Camille in 1969 -- which made landfall just a stones' throw away from where Katrina came ashore.
When Dennis came ashore earlier this season as a 'Major CAT 3' storm -- the resulting damage was confined to a very small area - and most people -- from local residents to the head of FEMA -- felt that 'this wasn't that bad'. And it wasn't. Wind damage was barely of CAT 3 intensity (mostly CAT wind damage) and was confined to a very small area of coastline. The storm surge was also not of 'major' proportions.
We find similar circumstances in the case of other recent 'Major' storms -- where landfall as a CAT 3 or CAT 4 storm resulted in the 'real world observation' of associated damage that many times did not quite fit the 'mental image' of damage that many people were led to expect. Hurricane Charley - officially a strong CAT 4 storm at the point of landfall left a 5 mile wide path of utter devastation -- a relatively small geographic area. Even the infamous Hurricane Andrew - officially a CAT 5 - essentially produced CAT 4 wind damage - with only a very small area of CAT 5 wind damage. There was relatively small Storm Surge damage. The devastation left by Andrew was incredible and widespread -- but caused no where near the amount of Storm surge damage that Katrina did.
When state and Federal Disaster relief people have seen year after year of what is called a 'CAT 3', 'Cat 4' and with Andrew, a 'CAT 5' storm -- they no doubt became 'sensitized' to what that 'must mean' in terms of overall damage. In reality -- using recent storms as 'examples' of what a CAT 3, CAT 4 or CAT 5 storm 'means' Katrina needed to be called a CAT 10!
None of this is meant to excuse the fact that FEMA and other Emergency relief officials failed to heed the continual commentary by the NHC and others that this storm was truly 'different'.
It appears to me that many with the authority to prepare for such storms simply do not have the expertise on staff to explain to them all the other factors that need to be considered in preparing for Katrina that goes well beyond the headline Intensity scale of CAT 5. And the NHC and others in the scientific community have been struggling for years to come up with a 'better' way to convey the total destructive power of a storm.
What the real answer to this technical dilemma is I'm not sure - but in the meantime, FEMA and others need to learn to read more than just the Headline of Hurricane Warning and think they know all they need to know.